Kashmir is a paradise and everywhere you look, there is a picture postcard image no matter what time of the year you visit. Yes, the security is tight with every 100 mtrs guarded by a soldier, but that’s how the Army and BSF are making it safe for you to travel to this magical land.
However; beyond the usual places like Pahalgam, Sonamarg and the snowy slopes of Gulmarg lies the real Kashmir, still untouched and a heaven in its true sense.
47 Kms from Srinagar, Badgam District
Yusmarg is the gateway to the enchanting Kashmir Valley and is a land of grassy pastures, dense pine forests with a beautiful backdrop of the snow-clad mountain range.
An idyllic day trip for all travellers, Yusmarg is aptly compared to the European Alps. The word ‘Yus’ is a short form of Youza or Jesus and ‘Marg’ means a meadow, so according to legends, it is believed that Jesus passed through this valley while travelling into Kashmir and since then it was named ‘Yusmarg’. The natural slopes of Yousmarg offer skiing opportunities to ski experts across the globe.
And yes, make sure you visit the Sunset Peak and the Tatakooti Peak for a beautiful sunset.
Festivals: The Navratri festival of Yusmarg region is quite popular for the pilgrims while the Babehali’s Chhinjh is an annual fair where wrestling competitions enthral locals and tourists alike.
What to expect: Go horse riding or take a long idle walk. Spend some quiet time near the Dudh Ganga and play in the cool sparkling water.
What to Eat: JKTDC Restaurant near the Cottages offers all type of continental and Indian food at decent prices. Local shacks provide snacks and quick meals during the daytime.
Nilnag Lake: A short 4 km trek leads you to this pristine lake located amidst pine trees.Sang-e-Safed, a frozen lake is quite unique as most of the lake is frozen throughout the year. It’s a 10 Km trek and takes a full day trek, so the trekkers are advised to carry tents along with food & water as during the trek the weather at high altitude changes frequently. An assistance of a guide is advisable.
Another popular trek is to Tosa Maidan, a large meadow used for cattle grazing by nomads. It is that same battleground where Maharaja Ranjit Singh was defeated by Mohammad Azim Khan in 1814. This area is connected through rough routes to places like Gulmarg and Poonch. The region is full of springs and Khag is the most famous one.
42 Kms from Srinagar (South West of Srinagar, in Badgam District)
It is pronounced Dwadhpathri locally and is a limitless meadow with a perfect setting with a river flowing, lush greens around, lofty hills and has pine-dotted jungles that soothe your senses and provides a perfect environ to refresh you.
Doodhpathri has been recognized as an upcoming Tourist Destination by the State Tourism Department and consists of twin pastures namely Parhacemaidan and Doodhpathri. Two rivers, Shaliganga and Sokhnag, flow on either side of the pastures making this place a must visit on your trip to Kashmir.
Koker means ‘fowl’ and Nag means ‘serpent’ – Kokernag lies at a distance of 15 km from the garden of Achabal and about 10 km from Daksum and is part of Bringhi Valley. It features beautifully maintained and picturesque gardens.
At a height of 2000 meters, Kokernag spring gushes out of the base of a thickly wooded hill from where it divides into channels, resembling a claw-foot of a hen. It is believed that the spring water of Kokernag known as Papashudan Nad has effective healing effects for many types of ailments.
Beautiful Kokernag Image Copyright @sandeepachetan.com
Kokernag has the largest freshwater springs in Kashmir containing a variety of Trout species.
Festivals: Rouf and Hafiza are festivals known for their dance performance and is especially performed on festive occasions such as Eid or Harvest season and weddings. Bacha Nagma is quite popular too when young kids create a magical evening with the musical instruments like Shehnai, Rabab, Tumbaknari, Dholak and Sarangi.
Stay Options: Hotel Alpine, a JKTDC hotel is ideal for stay and offers well-furnished cottages and rooms and is located right on the main road.
38 km from Srinagar and 14 Kms before Gulmarg
Tangmarg: located on your way to Gulmarg, Tangmarg lies at the foot of the Pir Panjal range and is gifted with natural beauty and has tourist spots like Ferozpore Nallah, Waters Meet and Ziarat of Baba Reshi in the vicinity. The place is popular for handicraft works and is also famous for its cherries, strawberries, walnuts and apples.
To Gulmarg, there are two routes from Tangmarg. One is a steep footpath while the other is a winding sealed road. Tangmarg is also the stop where vehicles stop to get chained to tyres during winters.
Eating Options at Gulmarg: Bakshi and Global Dhabas are good. For fine dining ‘Highlands Park’ and ‘The Khyber’ offers great views and amazing atmosphere.
Stay Options at Gulmarg: At Gulmarg, the accommodation options are quite expensive but following hotels are reasonable and good on pocket:
- JKTDC’s cottages Tel: 01954-254424, 254507; Tariff: Rs 4,000-15,000.
- Private cottages Tariff: Rs 1,800-3,500 for a room; booking can be done via Kashmir Alpine Ski Shop Tel: 01954-01954-254638; Mobile: 09419525606
Eating Options at Tangmarg: Downhill Restaurant, part of Downhill Hotel. A few doors down, there’s a Café Coffee Day. Other good options are the Malik Dilbar Restaurant, Hotel Alpine’s Zaiqa Restaurant and the vegetarian Jain Restaurant.
Stay Options at Tangmarg:
- JKTDC’s Hotel Alpine Mobile: 09419046044; Tariff: Rs 2,000-5,000.
- Abdulla Greenz Hotel & Restaurant Tel: 01954-254411; Mobile: 09419181023; Tariff: Rs 2,500-3,000 on the Narbal-Tangmarg Road.
- Downhill Hotel & Restaurant Tel: 01954-254516, 254433; Tariff: Rs 3,200 on the Narbal-Tangmarg Road.
- Pine View Hotel & Restaurant Mobile: 09622579291, 09906319555; Tariff: Rs 3,000 on the Narbal-Tangmarg Road.
- Mahajan Hotel & Restaurant Mobile: 09419413099; Tariff: Rs 2,000.
3 Kms from Tangmarg, en route Gulmarg
Drung is a new tourist spot in Tangmarg which is currently being promoted for trout fishing and rock climbing and is fast gaining popularity for those looking to spend some quiet time rather than being surrounded by tourists. You can take a refreshing dip in the icy water stream of Drung River or go for long relaxing walks in the dense pine forests. It’s still unspoilt and till now no artificial additions or constructions have altered it in any way, preserving the beauty of this place.
For my ski freaks please visit this awesome blog that highlights the details of skiing in Gulmarg & surrounds with amazing pictures! http://www.epicski.com/t/124972/gulmarg-2014-trip-report/30
13 Kms from Gulmarg
Located at a height of 3840 m, the place offers an enthralling picturesque view surrounded by a large meadow, clear blue waters of the lake, all surrounded by the Apharwat Peak.
The Alpather Lake is located 13 km from Gulmarg and can be reached on foot and a pony ride from Gulmarg. It is recommended to plan a trip to the lake from stage 2 of the Gulmarg Gondola, as from here is it only 3 km away. Not sure but I heard you need a permit to visit the place now. Kindly connect with the J & K Tourism department for more details.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Alpather Lake is during the summer months from May until September. The lake is frozen in winter months from November to February.
During summers, you can also combine this trip along with a trip to Khilanmarg (that lies between the 2 stages of Gondola and is a vast plain studded with flower-covered meadows (Stage 2 of Gondola (INR 500 per person), Kongdori and Seven Springs (Stage 1 of Gondola (200 INR per person), that can only be reached via a pony ride.
Offbeat: 75 Kms from Srinagar
About 75 Kms from Srinagar and 20 Km off Shopian (known for its apple orchards) is a secluded tourist spot, popular for its beautiful waterfall. The Aharbal waterfall is a delight to see as its surrounded by huge rocks amidst pine forests and mountains. The waterfall is now barricaded for safety but still, a must visit.
To reach the waterfall, be prepared to walk a few steps and then walk some more. IMP: The trek’s not recommended for senior citizens.
There are few lush meadows at Aharbal and one among them called Kungawatan is very popular. Aharbal can be reached either taking the Pulwama Shopian road or taking the Anantnag road.
Other Place to Visit: KousarNag: 3 to 4 hours simple trek among meadows along the Pir Panjal valley will bring you to this beautiful and heavenly place. It’s a huge spring surrounded by tall mountains and the place remains tranquil and serene. A must see if you can walk that much. Alternately you could take a pony ride to that place. Around 2 hours by the pony.
Accommodation: There is a well constructed DAK Bungalow with sparsely furnished but clean rooms run by JKTDC.
Offbeat: 50 Kms from Srinagar
Just 50 Kms from Srinagar takes you to Naranag, a hidden location that has the magnificent Gangabal lake and remains of an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva built using large granite blocks.
Gangabal Lake and stream is fed by the glaciers and Pir Panjal mountain range. Visit HERE for trek details. It is a wonderful campsite and has an inexpensive hotel to cater for food and lodging if required.
Stay options at Naranag:
- Gulshan Lodge Mobile: 09697761389; Tariff: Rs 1,000 in Naranag.
- Mohammed Aslam’s Guest House Mobile: 09697560626, 09858339208; Tariff: Rs 600-800 in Naranag.
Considered as the source of the River Jhelum, Verinag is Located 80 km from Srinagar and is a little ahead of Kokernag. It features springs and beautiful gardens, making it a perfect place for a picnic.
Verinag is also popular for species of ‘Rainbow Trout’ that flourishes in its dark blue spring water. It’s interesting to know that plenty of legends associate the spring having unfathomable special powers!
Situated 85 Kms from Srinagar, Daksum lies in the proximity of Achabal Garden and is easily accessible from there. Standing at an altitude of 2438 metre, it is an enchanting place to be.
To reach: via Pampore, Khanabal, Anantnag, Achabal, Kokernag and Vailoo
It is a green paradise, offering a picture-perfect landscape, Daksum offers adventure activities that include angling and trekking. Affluent with lush meadows, Daksum is a quaint little meadow and quite popular for its trout fishing, making it an angler’s paradise.
Where to Stay: J & K Tourism dept. has good accommodation and would soon open up more huts.
Mobile: 09469515050, 09596369601
Tariff: Starting 1,000 INR
Just below the JKTDC bungalow is the access point to the Brengi River. Crossover and spend time in the forest. If you walk downstream instead, you’ll reach Dessu Village after a few minutes. Just below Dessu, the Mathar Nallah joins the Brengi. There’s also a sheep breeding farm and the thickly forested Rajparian Wildlife Sanctuary.
For the Adventurous: A 32-km drive on NH1B takes you to Sinthan Top, the 12,450-ft-high pass that connects the Kashmir Valley and the Kishtwar region. Sinthan Top has snow from November till early July and is open for traffic from April till snowfall begins.
Sinthan Valley Image Copyright @Khurshied
About 10 km from Daksum on the way to Sinthan is a 3-km-long trekking trail to the Girsar Spring, whose waters also feed the Brengi River at Daksum. Girsar Lake lies in the vicinity of the Sinthan top. one needs to Trek for nearly 1.5 hrs to reach the lake. it lies at an altitude of 3735m.
Aarshan is a meadow right on the roadside, 21 km from Daksum towards Sinthan as you go above pine country.
“Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.” If there is ever a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here it is here. The beauty of Kashmir is truly unparalleled.
Saving the best for the last…
Offbeat and Still lesser known Spot
Chatpal is the fairytale land located on a 3 hours drive from Srinagar and is in the Anantnag district of Jammu & Kashmir. It is an untouched natural beauty surrounded by lush green dense forest, flowing streams and clear blue sky, with the background of mountains.
You are sure to fall in love with the place. Kokernag lies at a distance of 39 km and can be visited on a day trip. Although I doubt anyone would want to leave Chatpal! Local people are friendly and helpful. They go through their daily routine as you explore Chatpal and get mesmerised with its beauty. Visit the travel blog written by Sandeepachetan that gives a detailed and fascinating glimpse into this little gem.
How to reach: You need to drive through the Anantnag-Chitergul road and then hire a personal jeep to reach Chatpal.
Where to stay: A fully furnished tourist bungalow maintained by Jammu and Kashmir government is the best option. Please contact for prior booking.
Shopping at Kashmir
- Buy Saffron from Pampore (12 Kms from Srinagar). Saffron flower season is between Oct-Nov when both sides of the road bloom in lavender colour and look stunning!
Note: Best Quality Kashmiri Saffron is priced somewhere between 70,000 – 90,000 per kg
- Visit Awantipur for getting the best Cricket bats that are made from Willow trees. Sangam Village has the best variety and has been making and exporting these globally.
- Shop for Willow baskets that are trendy and so practical for keeping stuff.
- Visit Zainakadal Market (old Kashmir) for buying a range of spices, copperware and other exotic stuff including fabrics. Ask your hotel to arrange for a local guide as you may get lost in the lanes.
- For dry fruits including Pine nuts & Walnuts, Gulab Jal and dried rose petals, go to Kukar Bazaar.
- Get a tailor-made Pheran/Phirinirin – a long tweed garment that Kashmiri’s wear over their regular clothes to stay warm. Available in attractive colours this is a must buy while in Kashmir.
- Buy Noon Chai, a salty green tea that Kashmiri’s love. And yes it is tasty!
- Cottage Industries Emporium offers authentic and well-priced crafts including carpets, lac products, Silverware etc.
So next time you visit Kashmir, do take a shikhara ride and then plan a trip to explore the hidden treasures of the Kashmir valley.
Best Houseboats to Stay
While there are plenty of beautiful and decorative Houseboats to choose from both at Dal Lake and Nagin lake, the following ones are visitors top choices:
Chicago Houseboats: is owned and operated by Khar family for 4 generations and provide you with a warm homely stay. The houseboat has a beautiful lakeside deck. Inside the furnishings include embroidered native rugs and fabrics, and solidly comfortable Victorian and Edwardian furniture. They make delicious English breakfasts as well! These guys also offer great travel packages to visit Kashmir and Ladakh. Tariffs: 1800 – 3300 INR and if you want the whole place just for yourself, then the tariff is 5000 INR
Moonshine Houseboats: Recognized by J & K Department of Tourism and managed for over 4 generations, these houseboats are located on Nagin Lake and offers privacy along with all sorts of modern conveniences. Tariffs: 2000 INR onwards
New Sherin Houseboats: Quite a large boat, it is adorned with exquisite carvings and walnut furniture and is located on Dal Lake. These guys also offer you a free airport transfer and have been considered as one of the best Houseboats stay by CNN Travel too. Tariffs: 2700 INR Onwards for a Double Room and 4650 for stay + Meals Package
WelcomHeritage Gurkha Houseboat, Srinagar: Experience the Kashmiri life as the locals paddle through the Nagin Lake to sell fresh produce, immerse yourself in the peaceful calm of the lake waters and enjoy homely Kashmiri meals. Tariffs: 10000 onwards
Butt’s Clermont Houseboats: These are moored on the western shores of Dal Lake beside an old Mughal Garden and just a few steps away from Naseem Bagh which has Chinar Trees that are more than 400 years old. The stay is preferred for Honeymooners or someone looking for some quiet time alone. The Houseboats also give you amazing views of the Dal Lake and snow-covered peaks. Tariffs: 13000-20000 INR and also offers amazing offers.
Jammu & Kashmir official Tourism Site: www.jktourism.org
J & K Tourism Development Corporation Accommodation: www.jktdc.co.in/hotels.php
For Fishing License: Department of Fisheries in Srinagar (Website: www.jkfisheries.in)